Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law unconstitutional, state court says

A Pennsylvania appeals court has struck down the commonwealth’s landmark 2019 mail-in voting law, though the near certainty of an appeal means voters might not notice a difference until the Supreme Court weighs in.

In a 49-page opinion issued by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt on Friday morning, a five member panel of the court found 3-2 that the law, which allows all Pennsylvanians to vote by mail without an excuse, was unconstitutionally enacted as a statute, rather than being approved through the state’s long and rigorous constitutional amendment process.

“If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the…requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted,” Leavitt wrote. “But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books.’”

Otherwise, Leavitt expressed “no view on whether such a system should, or should

not, be implemented as a matter of public policy.”

The law, known as Act 77, was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in fall of 2019.

The suit was brought by a Republican county commissioner from Bradford County, as well as 14 legislators — 11 of whom voted for the law. In fact, in both chambers, all but two GOP lawmakers voted for the proposal.

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At the time, it was seen as a bipartisan win that expanded voting access. Since then, millions of Pennsylvanians have used mail-in ballots to participate in democracy.

However, Republicans began to sour on the law, amid former President Donald Trump’s baseless efforts to delegitimize mail-in votes in the lead up to the 2020 election.

In November 2020, after he lost Pennsylvania and the presidency, some of the former president’s allies filed a similar suit to invalidate the law and have millions of legally cast mail-in ballots thrown out, likely handing the state’s electoral votes to Trump instead of President Joe Biden.

The state Supreme Court rejected their arguments, but the court will likely hear them anew.

Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia elections attorney who often works for Democrats, told the Capital-Star he expected the ruling to be overturned on an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which the Wolf administration filed Friday afternoon.

“Not only do I expect this decision to be overturned, but it’s crucial that the state Supreme Court act quickly to stay the effect of this decision,” Bonin said.

With the appeal. Pennsylvania court procedure mandates that the lower court’s order will automatically be stayed — meaning mail-in voting will remain legal until the high court issues a ruling.

While the decision creates another layer of uncertainty on the commonwealth’s upcoming elections, the local officials who run elections are used to it by now, after years of court fights and legislative inaction on election law.

Counties are caught in between as Wolf, GOP once again try to negotiate election reform

One county election official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, expressed more displeasure about the timing than the ruling itself.

“An election director looks at this decision and says, ‘who cares?’ It’s going to be appealed,” they told the Capital-Star.

But with election day ticking closer, it does present the spectre of a time crunch in a month or two, when the state Supreme Court has to issue a final order — and “we’ll have no time to deal with the implications.”

Before Act 77, voters were restricted to two voting options specifically mentioned in the Pennsylvania state constitution — in-person at a polling place, or by absentee ballot.

“The Legislature shall, by general law, provide a manner in which, and the time and place at which, qualified electors who may, on the occurrence of any election, be absent from the municipality of their residence,” the constitution says.

The section then mentions work, illness, or religious observances as a reason a voter may request an absentee ballot.

Combined with tight statutory timelines, Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot laws were among the strictest in the nation, and there was bipartisan agreement among state and local officials as well as advocates to loosen these standards in fall of 2019.

There’s bipartisan agreement Pa.’s absentee voting law is broken. Will the Legislature act?

What got the deal done was a trade. Wolf, a Democrat, agreed to sign a bill that would remove the option of straight-ticket voting from Pennsylvania ballots — a GOP priority — as well as let any voter apply for a mail-in ballot without an excuse up to 50 days before an election.

The bill sailed through the General Assembly in about a week. Legislative Democrats were skeptical about the straight-ticket voting repeal, but Wolf called it a “giant leap forward” and signed it into law surrounded by smiling Republican lawmakers.

If passed as an amendment, it would have taken at least two years to enact it — as well as voters’ approval in a referendum.

Looking at the constitution’s language, the Wolf administration had argued that “because there is no express prohibition … against legislation establishing a new system of mail-in voting, it must be allowed,” Leavitt wrote.

Instead, she pointed to a 1920s Lancaster County voting case and a ruling on if Civil War soldiers at the front line could vote. The Legislature’s discretion applied only to picking voting machines, she argued, and the constitution’s language implies all voting, besides the specific absentee exemption, must be in-person.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael Wojcik, joined by one colleague, called the argument a “faulty premise.”

Instead, Wojcik said the court should, quoting an earlier ruling, “proceed to our task by presuming constitutionality in part because … our sister branches take seriously their constitutional oaths.”

One small matter also remains unclear, Wojcik noted. While the court struck down Act 77, the majority opinion does not mention the fate of the repeal of straight ticket voting. Going off of precedent, “if the no-excuse mail-in provisions of Act 77 are found to be unconstitutional, all of Act 77’s provisions are void,” Wojcik wrote, meaning voters could once again have the option of voting for a whole ticket with one button.

But Bruce Ledewitz, a specialist in Pennsylvania constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School, said that the legal risk to Act 77 was known at the time the Legislature passed Act 77.

Ledewitz, a Capital-Star opinion contributor, pointed to a small section near the end of the 125-page statute, in which the Legislature wrote that any challenges to the law had to be filed within 180 days of its enactment.

“The Legislature knew they may be wrong, everybody knew this was exactly the issue,” Ledewitz told the Capital-Star. “It’s not shocking.”

The challenge instead came months after the window for a challenge closed, after Trump’s 2020 loss, from U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, as well as a number of losing Republican candidates. The suit argued that 2.6 million mail-in votes should be invalidated, and the law tossed.

In rejecting the case, the state Supreme Court ruled on the timing and requested remedy — which would have set up a Trump victory — more than the substance of the challenge, Ledewitz noted.

In fact, at least one member of the high court,, Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy, signed onto an opinion expressing interest in hearing the full arguments against Act 77 even though she disagreed with tossing the 2020 results.

“I think both sides have a good legal case,” Ledewitz said. He expected the case might not necessarily follow party lines on the liberal-majority court.

Overall, he downplayed the eventual outcome.

“People who want to vote, vote,” Ledewitz said. “I think there’s a lot less at stake than people think there is.”

But Kadida Kenner, executive director of the New Pennsylvania Project, disagrees. Kenner, whose group tries to encourage voting and expand the electorate, was concerned that the ruling could have a chilling effect on people who don’t often engage in politics.

“This is an opportunity for someone to receive poor information, or bad information, or incomplete information and change their voting habits,” Kenner said

Mail-in ballots allow people who work multiple jobs with little day-to-day flexibility to participate in democracy, Kenner added. Removing the option here smacked of the judiciary playing politics, Kenner noted, amid widespread Republican efforts to restrict access to the ballot box.

But with an appeal likely, Kenner expressed confidence in the state Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

“We’re encouraging everyone who wants to vote by mail to keep requesting a ballot in 2022,” she said.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Despite their millions, GOP hopefuls Dr. Oz and Dave White are using pre-checked boxes for extra campaign cash

Mehmet Oz rose to fame telling millions of viewers to hand over their money to supplement companies selling products of questionable medical value.

Now, the Garden State resident and heart surgeon is asking for money for himself to underwrite his 2022 bid for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat

And just like viewers hoping for a healthier life, if Oz’s political supporters aren’t mindful of the fine print, they may not know what they are agreeing to.

Oz, along with fellow Republican Dave White, who’s running for governor, are the latest GOP candidates who have included pre-checked boxes on their fundraising solicitations that set up donors to make indefinite campaign contributions.

Both candidates are self-proclaimed millionaires and successful businessmen, whose personal wealth could be an asset as they both attempt to win competitive statewide primary elections in 2022.

Yet both also are taking advantage of a fundraising strategy, pioneered by former GOP President Donald Trump, that can juice a campaign’s finances, but has been criticized by members of both parties as unethical, and that the Federal Election Commission has asked Congress to ban.

In a statement, Marisa Nahem, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said that the candidates are “taking plays from Trump’s failed playbook.”

“The Republican ‘Super MAGA’ primary candidates are in it for themselves and they’re willing to scam unwitting Pennsylvanians just to survive a crowded and messy primary — it’s clear that Pennsylvania Republicans are more interested in propping up their far-right campaigns than putting the people first,” Nahem said.

Oz’s website displays the boxes after hitting potential donors with a campaign pitch.

“I’ve spent my career in medicine working to empower people to take control of their own lives,” the pitch, which includes a smiling picture of Oz, reads. “The government wants to tell you how to live your life, provide for your family, and make your health care decisions. I believe YOU should be in control to take back the power and feel like you are in control of YOUR life again.”

The site then suggests donations of between $25 to $2,900 — the FEC maximum for an individual donation.

Underneath the amounts are two check boxes in yellow. The first, already checked, makes the donation repeat monthly.

The second box has another plea for dollars.

“Dr. Oz is committed to putting the power back in the hands of the people. He needs you to join the Mid-Month Money Pledge to ensure that he has the support he needs to become Pennsylvania’s next Conservative Senator. Stand strong with him today!” the button reads.

Underneath, in small text, is the consequence of keeping the box checked: Another automatic donation on Dec. 15.

On Wednesday evening, the box listed the donation as $10. As of Thursday, the donation amount is listed as zero, although the box remains pre-checked.

Oz’s campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

White, a Delaware County entrepreneur running to be Pennsylvania’s next chief executive, also has used the pre-checked box, even after he said he’s put $2 million of his own money into the race.

His donation page has less pageantry. It just asks for a donation “to support Dave White WIN his race for Governor,” suggesting between $25 to $1,000 contributions.

White’s campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

Beneath is another yellow tinged checkbox already marked for recurring donations.

At least three statewide Republican candidates already have used the pre-checked box — gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain and Senate candidates Kathy Barnette and Sean Parnell, who has suspended his campaign.

The main donation tabs on Barnette’s website now does not use the pre-checked box. *Depending on the link, some fundraising portals for the McSwain campaign still use the boxes. For instance, text messages from the McSwain campaign encourage donors to make recurring donations and give an extra donation mid-month under a warning that the “liberal mob is ready to do whatever it takes to maintain their control of critical states like PA.”

Multiple GOP gubernatorial candidates criticized the tactic earlier in this year. Gubernatorial candidate Joe Gale, an elected Montgomery County commissioner, called it a “scam;” Pittsburgh attorney Jason Richey said, if elected, he’d sign legislation banning it under state campaign finance laws.

All five of the candidates who used the boxes raised funds with WinRed, a Republican-aligned fundraising platform. The organization did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Pennsylvania Dems stage walkout of House hearing on bills tightening public sector labor laws

Democratic lawmakers walked out of a House Republican-run committee hearing on public sector unions Monday, claiming the hearing's focus was misplaced.

“This committee should be talking about ways to strengthen our workforce and getting people back to work," Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, said in brief remarks at the start of the hearing by the House Labor and Industry Committee, before leaving the committee room.

The meeting, organized by committee Chairperson Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks, featured testimony from Americans for Fair Treatment, a national group that supports placing extra restrictions on public sector unions, as well as the Fairness Center, a public interest law center that's filed more than a dozen legal challenges against those unions.

Public sector unions face legal threats, but they're on a 'winning streak'

Americans for Fair Treatment is currently part of the State Policy Network, a constellation of conservative think-tanks and advocacy groups funded by free market billionaires such as the Koch family. The Fairness Center was once a member.

Cox said at the start of the hearing that he had invited representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, as well as from the state chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. However, neither agreed to appear.

“The hearing is going to appear lopsided, it was not from a lack of effort on our side," Cox said at the start.

The hearing focused on six bills in the committee, four of which were introduced in the last month. They include:

  • A ban on public sector unions acquiring the last four digits of employees' social security numbers, as well as contact information and addresses in contracts. AFSCME's current contact requires that the state share such information with the union
  • A bill to require proposed collective bargaining agreements be shared with the public before they are signed, and make documents shared with the employer during negotiations open to public records requests.
  • A ban on maintenance of membership clauses in public union contracts, which only allows union members to resign during a certain period of time. The proposal would not apply to contracts with the Department of Corrections.
  • Requiring union recertification elections at least every six years for public sector workplaces; under current law, employees may file for such an election if they gather signatures from 30 percent of the union membership.
  • Requiring that public employers regularly tell employees they do not have to be union members and tell non-members that they do not have to pay the union for its representation.
  • Banning the automatic deduction of union political action committee from public worker's paychecks. The proposal would not apply to police and firefighters.

In a letter sent to the committee, five public sector unions, including PSEA and AFSCME, called the proposals “nothing more than an ideologically driven attack, funded by out-of-state billionaires and extremist organizations that seek to diminish unions and their role in the workplace."

They instead called for the entire General Assembly to use $5 billion in remaining federal stimulus funds to invest in hazard pay, child care, staffing shortages and school building repairs.

The hearing also comes two years after public sector unions were dealt a blow by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that public sector employees could not be required to join or pay for union representation as a condition of employment.

Since that high court decision, conservatives have hoped to capitalize on that decision to pass further laws regulating and restricting public sector unions.

“There is a real need for the General Assembly to get involved, particularly given that the courts have been slow to act after Janus," David Osbourne, president of Americans for Fair Treatment, said at the hearing.

However, public sector unions have remained a powerful force in Harrisburg with connections on both sides of the aisle. While they provide a lion's share of their backing to Democrats during campaign season, they've consistently supported friendly Republicans as well.

That has shown when the Legislature has attempted to pass bills eroding unions standing in the state. An effort to pass an earlier bill notifying employees of their right to not be in a union stalled in the House in 2019.

Union opposition to post-Janus proposal divides Republican caucus in Pa. House

The House also held a vote in 2017 on the automatic political deductions ban, known among its supporters as “paycheck protection," in which 26 Republicans defected and voted the bill down.

Still, the General Assembly, in particular the House, has changed in recent years, and is growing more conservative, argue Capitol insiders.

Just eight of the 26 Republicans who voted against that proposal will still be in the House by January 2022.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Can magic mushrooms help fight mental illness? A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers think so

Marijuana legalization may hit partisan stumbling blocks in Harrisburg, but lawmakers in both parties have united around a new drug policy — letting Pennsylvania researchers look into how to use magic mushrooms to address mental health issues.

In a rare show of cross-party support, it is sponsored by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats have thrown their support behind the proposal sponsored by Rep. Tracy Pennycuick, R-Montgomery.

And advocates and lawmakers say that if all goes well, it could reduce the stigma around mental health treatment and psychedelics while helping veterans and cutting care costs.

The bill would authorize university studies of how psilocybin — the active ingredient in some mushrooms that causes psychedelic trips — could treat depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental conditions.

According to Pennycuick, the bill is an attempt to get Pennsylvania ahead of the curve on mental health treatment, particularly for veterans. Pennycuick served in the Army for 26 years.

“I have PTSD, so it interests me," Pennycuick said. “Not every treatment works for every veteran. So you have to be always leaning forward into treatment."

There already is some research to go off. A Johns Hopkins University study released this year on psychedelics found that people suffering depression had a substantial decrease in symptoms after taking psilocybin in controlled capsule form twice. The effects were found to last for at least four weeks.

In particular, what excited Pennycuick and other veteran advocates was the prospect of a limited run of psychedelic treatment taking the place of the expensive, regular prescription of normal pharmaceuticals.

The seed of the push is Brett Waters, a 33-year-old Lower Merion native who's now an attorney in New York with the Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn.

Waters — who also runs his own organization, Reason for Hope, which advocates for psychedelic-assisted therapy — said he got in touch with Pennycuick about the proposal after working on a similar push in Texas to approve psilocybin research. The bill became law in the Lone Star State in June 2021.

A combination of this family history, new research on psilocybin, and his own mental health struggles led Waters to realize that “there is so much more potential here for healing beyond my own experiences."

Waters, whose grandfather, a veteran, and his mother, a civilian, both died by suicide, said that by setting up a state research program, Pennsylvania could tackle mental health and attract private investors to finance the efforts.

Overall, Waters said, the bill allows Pennsylvania to take “control of the public health and safety of its citizens."

There is a small restriction. The bill states that when the Department of Health allocates funds for clinical studies of psilocybin, the department must “prioritize the approval of clinical studies specific to the treatment of veterans and retired first responders and their family members."

Veterans suffer higher rates of mental illness and suicide than those who did not serve in the military. A 2018 study by the federal government found veterans had double the suicide rate of civilians, for instance.

Pennycuick said that the rider on state funding made sense as a way to give back to those who “raised their right hand to say, I'll give you what you need for your [and] for my country."

Waters added that the language wouldn't preclude privately funded research from including any participants, and pointed out there is no specific funding mechanism in the bill yet.

If the General Assembly passed the bill, Waters expected a funding mechanism could be added later on, and that the commonwealth would attract private funders.

Oregon is the only state to decriminalize psilocybin on a statewide level. Some liberal bastions, such as Denver, Colo., Cambridge, Mass., and Oakland, Calif. also have done so on a municipal level.

William Smith, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, said that the Pennsylvania research bill still casts a wide net of possible conditions that could qualify for studies.

“A lot of populations in most need are specifically excluded from the current psilocybin trials," Smith told the Capital-Star, such as people suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The former qualifies for trials in Pennycuick's proposal, the latter does not.

Smith said he didn't think more research was needed to begin decriminalizing psilocybin for the general public, which is still a schedule one narcotic under federal law.

But more research, however, could shed light on if an individual with bipolar disorder can safely use psilocybin. He hoped the General Assembly, or further regulations, could expand qualifying conditions to be in trials.

“We ought to be making people aware if it's risky, or at least if it's not known yet," Smith said.

It's unclear if it will see the light of day. The bill is currently in the House Health Committee. The office of its chairperson, Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, did not reply to a request for comment.

But the proposal likely will have the backing of the veteran community. Ron Millward, a 32-year-old Lancaster native, is an Air Force combat veteran who served for seven-and-a-half years.

After he left the Air Force, Millward was prescribed as many as nine different pharmaceuticals at one time for his PTSD. However, starting in 2018, he transitioned off of them using a combination of cannabis, therapy, and other lifestyle changes like yoga.

He dropped his final antidepressant after discovering mushrooms in 2019, and hasn't taken any of his old medication since. He also founded Balanced Veterans Network, which links former military members with the same alternative treatments for mental illness that stem from their service.

Millward said he hoped everyone would have access to psilocybin eventually. But he compared the current push to medical marijuana. While there may be skeptics in the Legislature, letting veterans lead with their experiences battling battlefield trauma may challenge preconceived notions about who takes drugs and why.

“I think that we [can] change the narrative," Millward told the Capital-Star. “There were a lot of lies, there's a lot of stigma that was built up around all this, so I'm following in the footsteps of how we did it, where we got folks to understand that cannabis is a medicine. I believe we can do that similarly through education and research with psilocybin."


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Pennsylvania Republicans subpoena voters' social security numbers in 'dangerous' new election audit

With the 2021 general election now closer than 2020's, Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to request identifying information on Pennsylvania's roughly 9 million registered voters as part of a legislative investigation of former President Donald Trump's loss.

The legal requests are the opening salvo in what could be a long, messy fight over the investigation, which was spurred by unverified claims of voter fraud that have been repeatedly rejected by federal judges, county elections officials, and even Trump's former attorney general.

The 17 subpoenas were approved in a party-line vote by the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, a seldom-used panel that Republican leadership has turned into a vehicle for conducting their investigation.

Specifically, the subpoenas request:

  • All emails, legal guidance, and training procedures of the Department of State, which oversees elections, sent to the commonwealth's 67 county boards of election between May 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
  • A list of all of all registered voters in the commonwealth, including their name, date of birth, driver's license number, last four digits of social security number, address, and date of last voting activity on both November 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021
  • A list of everyone who voted in the 2020 presidential election and 2021 primary divided by if they voted in-person, by mail, by absentee ballot, or by provisional ballot

Responses for this round of subpoenas are due Oct. 1. It's unclear who will have access to this data. The Senate is hiring a private vendor to conduct the review, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday.

The panel's chairperson, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, added that the vendor will be paid with taxpayer money. He is still reviewing vendor candidates, but did not identify any. He also did not rule out issuing further subpoenas for ballots or other election materials.

Much of this information the panel requested is already public, such as when and how voters last cast a ballot, and can be purchased from the Department of State for $20. However, the identifying information, such as the last four digits of voters' social security numbers, and their driver's license numbers, are not in the file.

Dush said the committee was seeking the social security numbers to verify voters' identities, seemingly referencing those claims.

“There have been questions around the validity of people who have voted, whether or not they exist," Dush said. “We're not responding to proven allegations, we are investigating the allegations."

After the meeting, Dush cited sworn affidavits gathered by the state Republican Party to justify his claim of unverified voters. He added he had not yet reviewed those affidavits.

There have been just a handful of proven cases of fraud in Pennsylvania, including a Trump supporter Chester County who tried to impersonate his son to cast a second ballot. The supporter is currently on trial.

However, most Republicans, such as Corman, have instead walked a middle ground.

They've denounced the Wolf administration and the state Supreme Court's actions in the lead up to the election for causing “inconsistencies," and signed letters asking for the state's electoral college results to be tossed out, but haven't branded the issue as “fraud."

Corman even referenced his old stand against the “hue and cry" of Trump supporters who wanted the state Legislature to appoint its own, Trump-supporting electors, overturning the 2020 election result.

He argued that distrust of the election results — fed by Trump and his allies false claims — created a need to address those concerns through a Senate investigation.

“Either we will find things that will better improve our laws, or we will find nothing that will dispel a lot of people's concerns," Corman said Wednesday.

Dush is only running the review after the panel's former chair, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, was ousted after publicly questioning Corman's desire to even hold the review.

GOP Feud: Corman changes forensic investigation, reassigns Mastriano's staff in squabble over probe

Mastriano was a vocal Trump ally who frequently cited claims of fraud, and was even outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when Trump's supporters attempted to disrupt Congress certifying President Joe Biden's win.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Senate Democrats linked these efforts from Republicans to spread misinformation about the 2020 election to their investigation.

“The manner and the process by which we're going about trying to invalidate voters rights is dangerous and is tied into many activities which crossed the line which has been established not just for this past election cycle, but frankly for the existence of this country," state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said.

Capitol siege lays bare GOP electoral misinformation in Harrisburg

Senate Democrats said after the meeting that they also planned to challenge the subpoenas in state court and seek an injunction blocking their data request, though it's unclear if such a challenge would succeed. Those filings are still pending.

Wolf added in a statement he'd oppose the Senate Republicans efforts, and that the GOP “should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

There isn't even agreement among Pennsylvania Senate Republicans on the investigation . At least two state senators have already spoken out against the effort.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said in a statement last month that he expected the legal battles over the investigation to drag out for three to five years.

Yaw also pushed back on the motive for many who support the so-called election review, who may believe it could find proof of fraud and reinstate Trump. Based on emails he's received, “that is the underlying rationale for many who support an audit," Yaw wrote.

“Unless there is a coup, which is not going to happen in the United States, the 2020 election is over. Biden is the president," Yaw said. “An audit is not going to change that fact irrespective of the outcome."

Pennsylvania's 2020 election was already officially audited. The audit by the Department of State, which looked at 45,000 ballots from 63 out of 67 counties, affirmed Biden's 80,000-vote win.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Pennsylvania Senate GOP set to subpoena voters' identifying info as part of election investigation

A Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate panel will vote on 17 subpoenas on Wednesday, requesting personal information on every commonwealth voter, as well as all of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration's communications to county election boards in the months before and after the 2020 presidential election.

Specifically, the subpoenas request:

  • All emails, legal guidance, and training procedures of the Department of State, which oversees elections, sent to the commonwealth's 67 county boards of election between May 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
  • A list of all of all registered voters in the commonwealth, including their name, date of birth, driver's license number, last four digits of social security number, address, and date of last voting activity on both November 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021
  • A list of everyone who voted in the 2020 presidential election and 2021 primary divided by if they voted in-person, by mail, by absentee ballot, or by provisional ballot

The legal requests are the opening shots in what could be a long, messy legal fight over legislative Republicans efforts to review former President Donald Trump's reelection loss.

The effort follows baseless claims of voter fraud by Trump, which were echoed by a number of Pennsylvania legislators.

However, most Republicans, such as Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, instead walked a middle ground.

They'd denounce the Wolf administration and the state Supreme Court's actions in the lead up to the election for causing “inconsistencies," signs letters asking for the state's electoral college results to be tossed out, but fall short of naming the issue as “fraud."


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

14 Penn. Republicans just filed a lawsuit to kill voting-by-mail. 11 of them voted for it in 2019

Fourteen Pennsylvania House Republicans filed a new lawsuit this week alleging that the state's vote-by-mail law, which was passed with near-unanimous Republican support in 2019, is unconstitutional.

This article was originally published at the Pennsylvania Capital Star

The 34-page suit filed in Commonwealth Court on Tuesday night asks for the state court to declare the law unconstitutional, and prevent the state from issuing mail-in ballots to Pennsylvanians who do not have a work, health, or religious excuse for not voting in-person in upcoming elections.

The law, Act 77, allows all Pennsylvanians to request and to return, a mail-in ballot with no excuse. It was heavily used in the 2020 presidential election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eleven of the 14 House GOP lawmakers who filed the suit voted for the law. Two were not in the General Assembly at the time. And one, state Rep. David Zimmerman, R-Lancaster, voted against it.

Nine of the lawsuit's 's plaintiffs also signed a December 2020 letter asking Congress to toss Pennsylvania's electoral college results, and most were involved in other efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election.

The complaint argues that the law must have been passed as a constitutional amendment, which is put before voters in a referendum, rather than through legislation, where voters do not directly weigh in. That move, the suit argues, disenfranchised the entire Pennsylvania electorate.

To support that claim, the lawsuit points to a half-finished constitutional amendment to approve mail-in ballots, passed once through the General Assembly in 2019.

With new amendment strategy, Pa. GOP could target voter ID, mail-in ballots

Constitutional amendments must be approved in consecutive legislative sessions, and then be approved by the voters at a statewide referendum to win ratification.

That approach was abandoned when GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf instead agreed on the framework of Act 77, which traded approval for mail-in ballots for the elimination of straight-ticket voting, plus funding for new voting machines.

As such, the lawmakers argue, Act 77 usurped “the power of the people to give the final consent to any amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution."

The suit follows up on a first GOP attempt to throw out the law in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election. In it, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, , attempted to invalidate millions of mail-in ballots amid former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his loss to now-President Joe Biden.

GOP 2022 gubernatorial hopefuls spar over Pa. vote by-mail law

At the time, the state Supreme Court rejected the suit, arguing it was too late to challenge the law, and that it could not toss ballots that had already been filled out and counted in good faith.

The Supreme Court's two conservative justices still signaled an interest in hearing out the full constitutional arguments on the law, but they are a minority of the seven-member bench.

Regardless of the court's eventual verdict, Republican candidates for governor already have begun to campaign against Act 77. At least five, including former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, have signaled they would sign a repeal of the law.


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